I know we’ve talked a lot about getting to know the local communities when you travel. We do believe that you should take some time to walk around the town with your eyes and ears open to get a feeling for what makes the town tick.
The key to that is to avoid being stuck in the resort bubble where the world is catering to your most-likely “western” and “American” sensibilities. But that doesn’t mean that just because you’re in Mexico you need to eat tacos and because you’re in Italy you have to eat pasta. It just means supporting the local restaurateurs, each of whom is trying to carve a niche for themselves in the crowded restaurant market — especially in hot tourist spot like Playa Del Carmen.
The first restaurant we visited is Milos Restaurant (at Calle 38 Norte Mz Lt 2 Centro), about a 20 minute walk north of our hotel. The small Greek restaurant sits about a block off the beach and from the patio seating you can see the sand and hear the rumbling of the waves. The décor is simple, with the canopy of the porch strewn with empty wine and liquor bottles. I had the chicken gyro and Amanda had the pastichio and both were good.
Amanda has a rather high bar for the Greek lasagna-like dish, being a big fan of my mother’s version. The walk seemed long and 5th Avenue was crowded as usual, but the little quiet oasis that allowed us to listen to the waves and watch the families walk to and from the beach was a great way to help us downshift for our vacation.
The second night we decided after a long day diving we’d get some real comfort food and settled on an Italian restaurant only about five minutes’ walk from the hotel. The relatively new restaurant, EatItaly, is also currently displayed in review apps as Il Baretto Restaurante Pizzeria. A short walk wasn’t the only thing that brought us to an Italian restaurant in Mexico, we noticed earlier in the day that they were making their pasta from scratch.
We were given a nice seat in the corner near the railing of a raised patio where we could watch the hustle of 5th Avenue and watch the pasta maker beat the eggs and flower to make the dough before cranking it through the pasta cutter. You haven’t eaten good pasta until you’ve eaten pasta made that day — and that goes for anywhere on the planet. The ricotta and spinach ravioli was excellent and Amanda had the four cheese rigatoni. We also enjoyed a nice red wine from Mexico, a Puerto Nuevo Cabernet-Malbec blend.
We really loved the atmosphere. It was laid back and we didn’t feel rushed. We actually had to, in true European fashion, flag down the waiter to get our bill. The bill for a full meal including desert and wine came to about $68 USD. We could easily spend that on a meal back home at one of her favorite restaurants. We enjoyed it so much we went back on our final night for dinner as well. Protip: They have a gelato shop attached to the restaurant with some pretty delicious desserts.
The third night we decided to go for a nice Mexican meal at Pez Vela. We didn’t have to walk far, it was down the street in the opposite direction as EatItaly. The first time we ate at Pez Vela was on our first trip to Mexico, the time we experimented with “resort style” accommodations, and escaped into town and found ourselves watching Olympic hockey at this truly Mexican restaurant.
We sat down to a nice local meal of a veggie burrito and Mayan Chicken — a thin filet of chicken with a reduced liquor sauce — and mashed potatoes. The food was as wonderful as the people watching. We definitely recommend everyone who finds themselves in Playa eat at Pez Vela at least once. The restaurant also serves an excellent breakfast if you can drag yourself out of bed in the morning.
The most important thing to remember when eating out, even in a different country, is not to close yourself off to eating something different. But there’s also no need to leave the comfort food at home. You know your palate, you know what you like, why suffer through a meal? Resolve to eat something new and local just once. The rest of the time eat because you enjoy the food you’re eating.